BOSTON — Massachusetts on Wednesday became the first state to institute a permanent ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol cigarettes.

“I do believe sometimes somebody’s got to go first,” Gov. Charlie Baker said, moments after signing the ban. “That gives other people an opportunity to follow. I think in this particular case, I do hope other people follow.”

The ban on flavored vaping products will go into effect immediately. Practically, Baker has banned the sale of all vaping products until Dec. 11, so flavored vapes will never again be allowed to be sold in Massachusetts.

The sale of other mint and menthol tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars and chew, will be prohibited as of June 1, 2020.

While the federal government outlawed flavored cigarettes in 2009, mint and menthol cigarettes were exempt from that ban.

The bill will also impose a 75% excise tax on e-cigarettes, a rate similar to the tax on traditional cigarettes. Insurers will be required to cover smoking cessation counseling and products without copays.

Flavored tobacco products will be allowed to be sold in smoking bars, to be consumed on-site.

“Big tobacco steals things. Big tobacco steals health, it steals money, it steals lives,” said Rep. Danielle Gregoire, D-Marlborough, who introduced an earlier version of the bill. “Today we say Massachusetts shows the door to big tobacco. We are putting a nail in their coffin.”

Public health experts say the ban will stop an epidemic of youth vaping and prevent teenagers from experiencing a lifetime of addiction to nicotine.

“For far too long, we’ve watched big tobacco hook young people, just like they hooked our parents, grandparents, even some of us in this room,” said state Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, vice chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, and a lead sponsor of the bill along with Gregoire.

The bill was signed amid a nationwide outbreak of vaping-related lung disease, which has sickened at least 2,290 people and killed 47. In Massachusetts, 278 suspected cases of vaping-related pulmonary illnesses were reported to the Department of Public Health, and three deaths have been confirmed.

It also comes amid what some have called an epidemic of vaping among high school and even middle school students. According to the 2019 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey, more than half of high schoolers said they had vaped at least once. Nearly one-third admitted to vaping in the past month. Less than 5% had smoked a traditional cigarette in the past month.

Studies show most young people begin vaping with flavored products. Vapes have been available in a wide range of flavors, from cotton candy to bubble gum to strawberry.

While vaping is widely viewed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, many vape products actually contain more nicotine than cigarettes.

Marc Hymovitz, Massachusetts director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which has been pushing for the ban, said, “Keeping flavored tobacco products off the shelves here in Massachusetts is an epic win for our kids, because it helps protect future generations from starting on the path to a lifetime of tobacco addiction.”

Attorney General Maura Healey said she has been consistently hearing from parents about children who are getting suspended, kicked off athletic teams or putting their college scholarships at risk due to vaping.

Healey said by marketing flavored vapes to young people, vaping companies are taking “a writ from the playbook of big tobacco,” by making smoking look fun and appealing. “Flavors are the key. That’s what has attracted and grown this market,” she said.

The bill, Healey said, is “not a nanny state effort” but an important effort to combat a youth public health problem.

Spokespeople for the vaping company Juul and the tobacco company Altria did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The most controversial feature of the bill has been lawmakers’ decision to also ban mint and menthol cigarettes, which are particularly popular in the black community.

Some lawmakers described that part of the ban as an overreach.

Convenience stores said it would put them out of business, while driving sales to the black market.

“By dismantling the state’s only legal barrier between youth and vape and tobacco, government has fed the illegal market, disproportionately impacted communities of color, and cost the state hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue,” said Jonathan Shaer, executive director of the New England Convenience Store and Energy Marketers Association.

The association could challenge the ban in court, as retailers have done in several municipalities with similar bans in place. It could also potentially try to challenge the law through a ballot initiative.

Asked about the potential economic impact of the menthol cigarette ban, Baker said the effect “will remain to be seen.” But he said he believes there are legitimate public health issues related to the promotion and sale of these products. “There are things that happen all the time that change the game with respect to markets, with respect to industries, with respect to products,” Baker said. “I get the fact that we make decisions around here that have consequences. I happen to believe the positive consequences of this one outweigh the negative ones.”

President Donald Trump at one point talked about banning all flavored e-cigarettes, but he has since backed away from that proposal.

Baker said he would prefer to see a comprehensive national policy. “But the simple fact of the matter is it’s pretty clear at this point in time there isn’t going to be federal policy on this anytime soon,” Baker said. “And in the absence of that, we felt we needed to act.”

Run Date: November 27, 2019